Thursday, May 1, 2003

Ohio military contractors brace for blitz of orders


Extensive repairs, replacements expected in aftermath of Iraq war

By Malia Rulon
The Associated Press

WASHINGTON - Military contracts for tank tracks, armored Humvees, decontamination kits and aircraft parts have been rolling in to defense contractors across Ohio.

A 4.3 percent increase in defense contracts in the past year has been partially spurred by the war in Iraq, where much of the high-tech equipment made or developed in Ohio is being used, contractors say. An even bigger increase - particularly for those that make aircraft or vehicle parts - is expected once the government begins repairing equipment being used overseas.

"When a conflict draws down like this, that is when the military services reconstitute. They look at all their equipment and do repairs and upgrades. At that time, you get a lot of orders," said John Foreman, spokesman for the Defense Supply Center in Columbus.

The center is one of four maintained by the U.S. Defense Logistics Agency. It handles orders for tanks, trucks, artillery weapons, missiles, ships and submarines.

Ohio ranked 15th in the total value of U.S. Department of Defense contracts awarded in 2002, with about $3.4 billion in projects - a nearly $1 billion increase in defense funding since 1998.

Ohio's share of the total Defense Department spending is about 2.2 percent.

States such as California and Virginia get more money, bringing in $23.8 billion and $18.1 billion respectively.

General Electric Engine Services spokesman Rick Kennedy in Cincinnati said the growth that began in 1998 has been spurred by the demand for spare parts, a need likely to increase after the war.

"We have 19,000 military engines in service today and some go back 30 years," he said. "So they are being upgraded and spare parts are needed to extend the life of some of these aircraft."

More than half of Ohio's defense contracts come from the Air Force, with much of them going to GE Engine Services.

Overall, GE ranked 11th in the nation for defense contracts, which includes the work done at Cincinnati-area plants. Cardinal Health in Dublin, which in December won a two-year $353 million contract to provide pharmaceutical and medical services to the Army, Navy and Air Force, was ranked 27th among the nation's contractors last year with $650 million, according to Defense Department records.

The company supplied pharmaceuticals for the initial deployment of the hospital ship USS Comfort to the Middle East and recently has sent several special pharmaceutical shipments to Kuwait, spokesman David Verbraska said.

The Battelle Memorial Institute in Columbus, a private facility that tested bullet-resistant vests and chemical protective suits being worn by troops in the Persian Gulf, ranked 62nd in the nation last year with $312 million worth of defense contracts.

"There is a misconception that because of the war, there will be a lot of work. After the war, there will be even more replenishing of stocks and missiles. So for Battelle, if we are assisting in buying stuff, that may increase," said Bob Coughlin, a company manager.

Ted Schwartz, president of Columbus Jack Corp., a smaller manufacturer of ground equipment for aircraft that does about $5 million a year in government work, has already processed an urgent request from the Air Force for four hydraulic jacks to lift a B-1 bomber for repair.

"There was one bomber somewhere that desperately needed to be jacked up, and we scrambled to get that out," he said, adding that he expects more such requests in coming months.

Many of the tanks being used in Iraq were manufactured at the government-owned and General Dynamics-operated Lima Army Tank Plant, which has produced nearly 10,000 Abrams tanks to date.

The 600-employee plant has a $750 million contract with the Defense Department to produce tanks until July 2004. It also handles upgrades and repairs on the tanks, but spokesman Karl Oskoian said he wasn't sure what to expect after the war.

These tanks are rolling on tank tracks engineered and produced at Goodyear Tire and Rubber Co.'s plant in St. Marys, said spokesman Skip Scherer.

Goodyear has a multiyear contract worth $21 million a year to provide the government with tracks for the Abrams tank. Two recent orders were made in February and March, requesting nearly 100,000 tank tracks, Scherer said.

Stored inside many of the tanks are decontamination kits filled with absorbent powder that can be used to clean handles, steering wheels and weapons in the case of a chemical attack, said Bob Freeburn, program manager at Guild Associates of Dublin.

The 50-person technology engineering firm specializes in making chemical protection products and large washing machines that can wash and dry 400 pounds of laundry an hour. The Defense Department recently ordered up $11 million worth of decontamination kits 44 additional laundry systems for $21 million.

A smaller company, O'Gara-Hess & Eisenhardt Armoring Co. in Fairfield, recently landed a $38 million contract to install gun shields and other protective gear on the Army's High Mobility Multipurpose Wheeled Vehicles, commonly called Humvees.




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